A/N: Lower word count, faster updates. Also to make up for my 3 month disappearance. Enjoy!

We ran through the vast forest at a moderate pace, swiftly but silently. Fast enough to travel at a relatively decent speed, but slow enough not to tire us. Hinata activated her Byakugan to scout our surroundings at set intervals, while Shino kept his Kikaichu in reserve just in case.

Rather than running straight towards the tower, we instead travelled in a diagonal direction towards the left of our starting gate. We had taken notice of the teams closest to our starting point.

To our right was a team from Konoha who we were not familiar with, while the opposite were a trio of Suna genin. Though thankfully, not the one that contained a bloodthirsty jinchuuriki. Instead, it was just a group of no-name, slightly above average shinobi. Perfect targets for our team.

Stored in my inventory was an Earth Scroll, which we had received from the chuunin proctors prior to entering the Forest of Death. That meant we needed a corresponding Heaven Scroll in order to pass this stage of the exam.

The objective of the second stage was rather simple: Each team was given either an Earth Scroll or a Heaven Scroll. We were then given five days to reach the building at the centre of the forest with a pair of each scroll in our possession. How we retrieved the second scroll was up to us, and all restrictions were lifted - killing included.

The chuunin proctors then brought the genin teams to their respective starting gate. There, Team Ten planned for the second stage of the exam.

Following the objectives of my [Chuunin Exam 2] quest, I informed my teammates that I wanted our team to not only complete the test within a day, but also eliminate as many of our competitors as possible at the same time.

I reasoned that the less competition we had going into the third and final stage, the more likely our chances of actually being promoted. Furthermore, completing the second stage as quickly as feasible would give us more time to rest as compared to the other examinees who had to struggle in the forest for a longer period of time.

It was a sound plan, since our team was made up of two heavy-duty trackers who could very effectively locate our prey, for lack of a better word, and myself who could single-handedly take down an entire genin team by alone… with the exception of certain individuals.

Additionally, in order to gather as many scrolls as I could within this time period, I created three shadow clones from the get go to spread out and steal scrolls from opposing teams. They went forth with the instruction to immediately dismiss themselves should they encounter Orochimaru somewhere. That would not only prevent the Snake Sannin from investigating my abilities, but also immediately inform me of his whereabouts in order to avoid him.

And as for the [A Snake's Corruption] quest to stop Orochimaru from marking Sasuke with the cursed seal? Well I obviously rejected it of course. It was foolish to even consider it in the first place.

It didn't matter how good the rewards were, or even how lenient its failure penalties were. Consequences and side effects of quests did not stop upon mission success or failure. I had to also consider what would happen once I got Orochimaru's attention, after trying to save Sasuke.

The moment I caught Orochimaru's eye, there would only be two outcomes: An instant Game Over, or a slow and torturous one with me ending up on his laboratory table. Neither of which were even remotely acceptable results.

I did think of alternate methods to completing the quest indirectly. Such as directly informing the authorities of Orochimaru's presence in the Chuunin Exam, or causing a big enough commotion in the forest to warrant investigation from the ANBU. But the former method would require evidence which I did not have or the time to get some, while the latter method was just as risky as confronting the Snake Sannin myself.

And even if it did somehow work, Team Seven might still get caught up in the ensuing conflict and Sasuke could still be slapped with a curse seal during the commotion. This would still result in a quest failure, leaving me to bear the burden of the penalties despite not being directly involved.

I might have had some theories on how Gamer's Mind and Gamer's Body might interact with the Cursed Seal of Heaven, but ultimately that was all they were – theories. Nothing concrete or definite, and that was not a risk I was willing to take.

The only thing that was regrettable would be forsaking Sasuke to his fate. But it was honestly out of my hands at this point. Orochimaru just wasn't someone I could contend with at this point. The fact of the matter is, I am weak. But! Instead of bemoaning my fate and cursing my helplessness, this weakness of mine will be something I eradicate. It was just a matter of time and opportunity.

My number one priority is, have been, and always will be, my personal safety and wellbeing. Nothing could change that, not even the endangerment of Sasuke, whom I already knew would somehow be fine even with a cursed seal attached to his neck. There might be an issue with Team Seven being targeted by the Oto team, but I already had a plan to take care of that as well.

Right now, what the sensible first step to surviving and becoming stronger was completing the [Chuunin Exam 2]'s bonus objective of finishing the second stage within a day and receive a summoning scroll.

Not only were summons incredibly useful and versatile, they were also a potential avenue for learning how to use Natural Energy and eventually acquiring Sage Mode. While it wasn't guaranteed that every animal tribe a shinobi could form a contract with could teach its contractor how to use Natural Energy, it was still a better chance than learning it on my own.

I was also working towards accumulating EXP by gathering Earth and Heaven scrolls. Every pair after the first I gathered would give me 10,000 EXP. Meaning, if I could hypothetically gather eleven total pairs of Earth and Heaven scrolls, I could theoretically receive 100,000 EXP, twice that of [A Snake's Corruption]'s quest reward. Highly unlikely, sure, but at least my safety would be guaranteed.

While I was still mulling over my own thoughts and paying only half attention to where I was stepping, Hinata spoke up next to me.

"200 metres, I have located the team from Suna." She reported, pointing in the direction of our targets with one hand while holding up the other to indicate for us to slow down.

Already? That was sooner than I predicted. They must have been headed in our direction as well, and our two teams coincidentally met in the middle.

200 metres was the limit of Hinata Byakugan's range. Any further would require forcing more chakra than was worth it, plus added strain would be put on her eyes as well. The second stage of the exams was a marathon, not a sprint. So it was wiser to apply ourselves more conservatively.

We stopped, landing on a branch high up in the trees and Shino immediately released a clump of Kikaichu that dispersed into individual, almost imperceptible specks that flew towards the enemy.

A smaller clump of Kikaichu hung back.

"Follow them," Shino prompted, "They will lead you to the Suna team. We will follow from a short distance and provide support if necessary."

If necessary were the keywords here. My teammates knew the extent of my strength, and from my [Observe] as well as Hinata's Byakugan, all signs pointed to the Suna genin being easy targets.

I cracked my neck and nodded, wondering how heavy handed I should be when I took them down. Killing them was indeed cruel, but would also result in three less enemy combatants taking part in the invasion, which might consequently save some Konoha lives.

"Unluckily for us, they have an Earth Scroll as well." Hinata added, her all seeing eyes still activated.

"That's fine," I shrugged, "We could always use a spare."

"Be careful." She advised with a slight tinge of red on her pale cheeks, more out of concern over my wellbeing than any doubt over my abilities.

I thanked her for her concern and leapt off the branch, following Shino's Kikaichu. I'll cripple them, I decided. That should be kinder than taking their lives outright. See that, system? I'm trying to be a good person here.




The plan was clear. The moment the test started, we would dash straight towards that weak-looking Konoha team that started next to us. Three wet behind the ears children barely out of the academy, so green they still smelled of their mother's milk.

They shouldn't have joined the chuunin exam in the first place. It was no place for these inexperienced brats, even if it was being held in their own village. Wouldn't it be nicer, kinder even, for us to relieve this heavy responsibility from their hands by eliminating them early into the exam? We were doing them a favour!

One of them had to even go through that whole charade of 'revealing' that he had 'taken down an elite chuunin rogue shinobi'. Come the fuck on. Anyone who believed that bullshit had to be soft in the head. We shinobi thrived on deception and subterfuge. That whole performance was just theatre to hide their weaknesses.

Konoha shinobi were pathetic. Having to resort to such petty schemes was pitiful. They weren't like us Suna shinobi. We knew true hardship. Let them try surviving a few days in the desert and see if they didn't drop dead on the third day. No, us Suna shinobi were born in hardship, moulded by it. Our brows were beaten black by the smouldering sun, our skin toughened from the never-ending cutting wind carrying razor sharp grains of sand and our spirit tempered by suffering through droughts.

Unlike they who had everything they needed handed to them, we had to fight for what's ours. We even had to compete with other Suna teams for the lowest-paying missions. A single C-ranked mission fought over by ten different teams.

With that limited income, even feeding our families was difficult, not to mention maintaining our weapons and tools. Fuck I was getting pissed just thinking about it.

Even just coming here to take part in the chuunin exam was a brutal competition for the limited slots. Not everyone could be the children of the Kazekage and not have to compete with the rest of us commoners for the chance of a promotion. So for us to see rookie Konoha genin having the opportunity to participate without having to prove themselves… it was a slap in the face for us who had to fight for this right.

And speaking of the Kazekage's children… I was beyond relieved when I saw that they were starting the second stage of the exam on other end of the forest. That monster would not hesitate to kill even fellow Suna comrades if it felt like it. Once it got bloodthirsty, it did not recognize friend or foe, killing indiscriminately.

They say the third stage of the chuunin exams are almost always a tournament style competition that pit two genin against each other. As long as I don't meet that monster on the field, I will definitely have the chance for a promotion. Once I become a chuunin, I won't have to compete so hard for a measly C-rank mission!

More missions means being able to achieve more merits, more achievements would let me redeem better jutsu and shinobi techniques, allowing me to become stronger and secure a better livelihood for my family! This chuunin exam will be my turning point, the stepping stone to the rest of my life-

(3rd person POV)

A [Power Strike] enhanced fist, connected to an arm whose strength was amplified by [Chakra Enhancement], crashed into the sternum of the Suna genin, who looked like he had been daydreaming and thus not paying very much attention to his surroundings.

The impact of the blow formed a tiny shockwave as the foreign shinobi was sent rocketing back and crashing in to a tree, forming a small crater on the sturdy wood trunk. His sternum and ribs fractured under the heavy blow, and blood went rushing out of his mouth and nose. Fortunately for the young man, his eyes rolled to the back of his skull right after as he fell into blissful unconsciousness.

"E-enemy!" The teammate of the fallen Suna genin barely had a chance to react before Shinji used [Flash Step] to connect an axe kick that slammed down on the opponent's shoulder. The kick, similarly empowered by [Power Strike] and [Chakra Enhancement], splintered his clavicle and shoulder blade before the impact drove him to the ground the next instant.

The last remaining member of the Suna team hurriedly fell back his hands hastily forming hand seals for something, anything that could bring forth a miracle to this sudden and confusing situation. The chakra in his veins rapidly surged, being moulded and externalised for a jutsu.

But before the final genin could complete his technique, Shinji had already appeared infront of him in a burst of speed. The foreign ninja's fingers, which had been interlaced together in a haphazard 'Ram' seal was swiftly seized by the Konoha genin with an iron fist.

In that moment, the Suna genin looked into Shinji's eyes and recognized an uncaring, cold indifference to causing pain and suffering.

"N-no, wait!" As soon the words left his mouth, Shinji clenched his fist. His hand, strengthened by [Shinkyoken] and [Chakra Enhancement] crushed the fingers of the foreign shinobi, breaking every bone of each digit within Shinji's vice grip into multiple fragments.


An intense scream of pain rang out from the genin whose fingers were crushed. His legs buckled under the pain and shock, falling to his knees. Sharp, unbearable pain rocketed through the shredded nerves in his fingers to the rest of his body and up to his brain. Yet, his shattered fingers were still held mercilessly within the fist of Shinji.

'A monster! He's a monster just like Gaara…!'

It wasn't Shinji's strength, speed and young age that led to this conclusion. Rather, it was the almost inhuman disregard for human life that culminated to such a judgement.

They say that eyes are the windows to the soul. Yet, when the Suna genin looked into Shinji's eyes, all he saw was a cold, dark and empyu void lacking any basic human empathy where the soul should have been.

If Shinji so desired, he had the strength to rip off those fingers and turn them into paste within his fist. But he was not so cruel. He compassionately ended the suffering of the Suna genin with a quick but decisive hammer fist to his temple, instantly rendering him unconscious.

The surging chakra beneath his skin calmed, and Shinji released his grip on the crushed fingers, letting the enemy flop to the ground unmoving.

Around him were three motionless bodies of the Suna team that had been lively and determined mere seconds before. He had struck them with the force and speed of a low-jounin shinobi, like he was a high-ranked ninja playing around and bullying genin in a chuunin exam.

The vegetation around them was barely disturbed, indicating little evidence of there being a struggle. Well, because there wasn't a struggle really. The word struggle implied resistance. That the other party had fought back.

There was no resistance. There had been no fight. Because to Shinji, these Suna genin were not prey that he had hunted with some effort. No, they were less than that. They were little better than the grass he stepped on walking through the forest. And grass did not resist.

Shinji calmly waited for his teammates to catch up, while he examined the Suna genin.

Weak. Slow.

He doubted that they were the cream of the crop from Suna. The genin that actually showed promise must have been held back in their village, preparing for the invasion. Only Gaara and his siblings were meant to advance to the final stage of the Chuunin Exam. The rest sent with them only served the purpose of camouflaging Suna's true intent.

Their average levels were around 30, only 14 levels lower than his. But their stats were horrendous. But he could hardly compare his own stats to theirs, especially after donning Gai's Bodysuit that gave a percentage increase in stats. His stats no longer reflected what someone at his level should possess, especially after he included boosts from passive and active skills.

Status Page

Name: Shinji Ikari
Age: 13
Level: 44
Next Level: 16350/49500
HP: 16764/16764
CP: 16764/16764
STR: 155 (+13)
VIT: 203 (+7)
DEX: 212 (+35)
INT: 210
CHA: 35 (+41)
Points – 20
Ryo – 1,433,935

Hinata and Shino arrived a few short moments after, landing next to Shinji from the treetops they had been traversing through. Hinata wordlessly went to search one of the Suna genin with purpose, quickly fishing out an Earth scroll – their second one.

"Here." Hinata handed the scroll over to Shinji, who nodded and took it from her. He pretended to hide it somewhere his clothes but stealthily snuck them into his inventory, the safest and most secure hiding place he knew of.

"We should move. The scream will attract others." Shino stated, though he was more focused on scanning the writhing, broken bodies of their 'competitors'.

'What brutal power… It seems that Shinji has not shown his true strength to us in a long time. Unfortunate. I had so many ideas for ambushing enemies in this forest… but with Shinji with us, something like that won't be needed.'

The Aburame raised a finger, where a Kikaichu then proceeded to land on. 'The scroll disappeared? Did Shinji notice the Kikaichu I planted on the scroll just in case he lost it? How strange…'

"My shadow clone is already going after the Konoha team from the other side. So there's no point doubling back. If we keep heading this way we could intercept another Konoha team that started out over there, but there's a chance we might miss them and waste our time." Shinji gestured with his hand while trying to remember which team started where according to his memory.

He didn't know where the starting gates were for every team, since they had been led away separately by different chuunin proctors. But he could remember the teams that had started near them since they had been brought along together.

"I say we head to the tower, travelling in an S-shaped pattern while you and Hinata scout ahead with your respective clan techniques. We will move at the same pace as before, not too fast but not too slow. Agreed?"

"Agreed, Shinji-kun!"

Shino only gave a silent nod in affirmation.

Elsewhere in the forest…

"Oh, they have a Heaven Scroll! Score!"

Shinji's shadow clone removed the Heaven Scroll from the hidden compartment in the rucksack. Around the clone was a sight frighteningly similar to the original Shinji. Three Konoha genin lay motionlessly on the grass, rendered unconscious by the clone's swift but crushing martial strength.

Before Shinji had struck down the last Konoha genin, the poor guy had helplessly asked, "Why? You're from Konoha too!"

"Let me tell you a secret, I can actually see the future." The clone had mirthfully replied, "And your team wasn't going to pass the exam anyway." Before knocking him unconscious with a snap kick to the jaw.

The difference between these three and the Suna team the original had taken down was that their injuries were way lighter. With the foreign genin, Shinji had aimed to cripple, landing either career ending injuries or ones that would take months to recover from. But for the Konoha genin, he had actually shown considerable compassion, only knocking them out rather than eliminating them from the second stage entirely.

Because three shadow clones had been created, with each possessing only a quarter of Shinji's max CP, they were forced to conserve their chakra usage. Which wasn't difficult when dealing with the average genin team. And they still had a sizable chakra capacity, but they could not flagrantly spend their chakra like they were spending money as a once extravagant billionaire.

As such, the shadow clone took down the Konoha genin squad with just taijutsu, [Chakra Enhancement] and a few well-placed [Power Strikes].

Slotting the Heaven Scroll into the inner pocket of his Rogue's Hoodie, the clone started running in an aimless direction again, hoping to encounter another team.

He opened up his senses, trying to rely on sight and sound to find his next target. Without his tracker teammates with him, the clone would have a much harder time pinpointing the exact location of enemies, relying solely on luck.

His objective was simple. Take out enemy teams and gather as many scrolls as possible within twenty hours. After that, sprint straight to the tower located at the centre of the forest, rendezvous with the original and his team, and let the EXP roll in from turning in multiple pairs of scrolls.

The clone's footsteps were silent, making not even a single sound as he traversed over the treetops. The silence was thanks to the Rogue set items he had equipped before going into the second stage. The three-set item effect consisting of the Rogue's Hoodie, Rogue's Sandals and Rogue's Pants granted him soundless footsteps. So he couldn't make any noise while walking or running even if he tried.

Such a scene happened in two other locations in a forest within a few minutes of each other. One was another Konoha team, while the other was from Takigakure. Neither put up much of a fight as the shadow clones rapidly dispatched them with ease. Low-jounin level strength, even as a shadow clone, was near invincible amongst genin.

Elsewhere in the forest…

"AAAGHHHHHHHHHH!" A ghastly scream echoed throughout the unusually silent forest, causing Team Seven to turn their heads towards the source.

Naruto paled slightly, "That was… a scream right? It hasn't even been ten minutes yet…"

"People are acting quickly. We should start moving too before all the scrolls are all gone." Sasuke narrowed his eyes in the direction of the scream.

Shikamaru's brow furrowed and he snapped his finger to get back their attention. Seeing them turn back, he continued, "Don't be hasty. There's no need to rush and get ourselves caught in a trap."

Sasuke shook his head disagreeing, "Taking our time will only lessen our options. Five days is not a lot of time. As more teams are eliminated and others start arriving at the tower, there might be a bloody contest at the end for the few remaining scrolls. We are strong, so we will win, but it will be a waste of our time and energy while others are resting in the tower."

"I agree, but that doesn't mean we rush in blindly you moron! It's doing stupid shit like that that always gets us in trouble, like that time in Wave!" Shikamaru shouted back, portraying an uncharacteristic temper.

Sasuke was stunned for a moment before tilting his head forward, his eyes shining with a gleam of understanding. He stepped in grabbing on the collar of Shikamaru's outerwear, "Bastard I told you not to mention Wave ever again!"

Shikamaru returned the courtesy, his fist moving forward grabbing on to the Uchiha's collar as well, "It's because your head doesn't work so I need to remind you don't I!?"

While the two glared at each other, Naruto looked between the two in growing confusion and perplexity, "E-eh? Why are you two fighting? Huh, what's going on? What happened in Wave?"

Sasuke clicked his tongue in frustration and shoved Shikamaru off with his arm before turning to leave, "I'm getting sick of your shit Nara. I'm passing this stage, with or without you."

"Pfft, fine, see if I care! But leave the scroll behind first!" The Nara yelled back glaring.

Sasuke just flipped a middle finger back and left without saying anything else.

Shikamaru watched his back for a few seconds before turning to his remaining teammate, "Let's go Naruto."

The blonde wanted to protest. The whole scene was preposterous to him. What was the point of fighting over seemingly nothing? That he expected from Sasuke, but Shikamaru was always calm and collected, so there was no way he would lose his temper like that unless- oh.

Naruto immediately turned towards the direction Sasuke left towards and cupped his hands around his mouth, "Yeah get lost you idiot Sasuke! We don't need you! You suck anyways, we're better off without you! Go fail by yourself stupid!"

Shikamaru rolled his eyes. Clearly Naruto had never heard of 'overacting'.

Some distance above the trio, now turned duo, a group of Ame shinobi watched with barely disguised glee.

"Those idiots, arguing in the middle of a forest, during the chuunin exam? Hah, should have expected that from brats like them."

"Isn't that why we targeted them in the first place? Easy targets. Practically a free scroll."

"Don't get complacent. It might be a trap. Unlikely, but it doesn't hurt to be careful." The apparent leader amongst them cautioned.

"Oboro, you worry too much… But fine, we just need to take down the one who is alone anyways. He's the one with the scroll. And even if it's a trap, with the three of us together he won't stand a chance."

With that said, the Ame genin moved quietly towards the departing Uchiha, their weapons drawn with malicious intent. They stalked the Konoha genin from above, constantly watching out for signs of a trap or an ambush, but were delighted to find none. Their impression of Sasuke as an inexperienced and immature genin was further reinforced.

A fair distance away from where Sasuke parted from his team, the Ame shinobi glanced at each other and shared a collective nod. It was time to strike.

The raven-haired teen moved through the forest calmly, his hands in his pockets. Rather than walking with a sense of purpose, it felt more like he was waiting for something to happen. His steps were slow, but deliberate, rather than being imbued with the hurry one would expect from a candidate in the Chuunin Exam.

He looked relaxed, but a keen observer would have noticed the tension in his forearms as well as the fact that his fists were clenched tightly in his pockets. Unfortunately for the Ame genin, they were no such keen observer. All they saw looking at the lone Konoha genin was a walking prey carrying a scroll that might send them directly to the third stage of the Chuunin Exam.

Sasuke perked up, the slight shifting of a branch from a heavy weight stepping on and bending its shape the only indication he received before a hail of kunai and shuriken rocketed towards him from above.

'Finally showing yourselves!' The Uchiha turned his gaze upwards, the scarlet red of his Sharingan already replacing his onyx eyes. The world slowed and amidst the shower of metal, he spotted several gaps that could accommodate his figure. Twisting his body, he gracefully stepped into one of these gaps as the projectiles hit the ground around him. Some with poorer accuracy bounced off the hard earth with a sharp 'Ping!' while others embedded themselves into the soil.

Not a single piece of metal touched him or his clothes, a testament to his enhanced agility and dynamic visual acuity from the activation of his Sharingan.

Without hesitation, even after seeing their initial volley of projectiles failing to even graze their target, the three Ame genin shot off the branches they had been standing on. Each wielded kunai in their hands, either dual wielding or just a single weapon in one arm.

Sasuke turned to the trio flying towards him but held little panic in his gaze.

'You can't dodge in mid-air, idiots.'

The Uchiha flew through six handseals, completing them in just a fraction of a second. Chakra gathered towards his lungs as he kneaded them, turning them into fire. The ease and speed at which he could do so evidence of his Uchiha ancestry; the members of his clan notorious for their expertise in controlling fire.

"Katon: Phoenix Sage Fire!"

With the fire nature chakra gathered in his lungs, he expelled a volley of small fireballs into the air. The many small fiery spheres flew at the Ame genin, meeting them halfway and almost collided with them had it not been for their quick thinking.

Knowing that they could not individually move out of the way, they instead twisted their bodies in mid-air and turned to each other. They extended their legs and used each other as a platform to perform a complicated aerial maneuver that allowed them to dodge the fireballs threatening to scorch them black.

The three Ame genin landed on the ground, caught off guard by the surprising amount of resistance they had not expected from their target, now more cautious with their actions. They surrounded Sasuke in a triangular formation, holding up their weapons.

Now that Sasuke had a better look at his assailants, he could identify them as shinobi from Amegakure based on their forehead protectors. All three wore a similar, beige jumpsuit, rebreather masks that covered the lower half of their face, as well as blindfolds around their eyes. One had two eyeholes cut out; another only had one eye exposed, while the last had both eyes covered for some odd reason.

"Impatient. I thought you would wait a little longer before attacking." Sasuke smirked, reaching back to unsheathe his wakizashi, Satori. His arrogance was only half genuine. Though confident in his skills, Sasuke had learned the virtue of humility from his repeated beat downs delivered by his cousin. He had learned not to underestimate his enemies, for hubris blinded rational thought.

The Ame genin with two eye holes in his blindfold narrowed his eyes and cackled, "False bravado. We will give you one chance. Surrender your scroll and live. Otherwise, resist and perish."

"My scroll? Sure." Sasuke's Sharingan eyes pulsed with chakra as he made eye contact with two of the three foes standing before him. "But if you want it, you are going to have to take it from me!"

The Konoha shinobi's declaration of war was the spark that ignited the fires of war. All three Ame genin moved as one, slipping their finger through the bottom hole of the kunai so that they could form hand seals.

They only formed two hand seals, and ended in the tiger seal in unison. "Suiton: Haze Clone!"

All around them formless masses of chakra materialized, creating dozens, nearly a hundred duplicates of themselves. It didn't take long for Sasuke to be completely surrounded by a large crowd of identical looking duplicates of the Ame genin.

The lead Ame genin chuckled, "Cornered rat. Now you shall pay for your arrogance!"

Sasuke looked at the conjured clones of his enemies with thinly veiled amusement. 'Using illusions in front of me? They have clearly never dealt with an Uchiha before. What's more… they have already fallen into my trap!'

The illusory clones of the Ame genin rushed towards Sasuke, kunai in hand. Their movements were slow, sluggish, but their numbers made up for their ineptitude. The two tomoe Sharingan in his eyes spun slowly as he rushed through the crowd of clones.

The clones swung their weapon at Sasuke but he did not even bother avoiding them, letting the intangible kunai pass harmlessly through his body. After watching Naruto summon corporeal shadow clones for so long, if he still couldn't tell the difference between tangible and intangible clones, that idiot blonde would burst out laughing if he found out.

Furthermore, his Sharingan could see chakra! He could identify the thin layer of chakra that made up the structure of the illusory clones with just a glance. Though the Sharingan could not match up to the Byakugan in its ability to discern another's chakra capacity or their chakra pathways, something simple like seeing chakra usage on the surface was still within his ability.

Sasuke dash through the crowd of clones, running through them as though it was but air standing in his way and reached one of the original Ame trio rapidly. The person he targeted first was the one who had completely blindfolded himself, unlike his teammates who had one or two eyeholes in their masks.

The foreign shinobi was caught off guard, having been in the middle of performing another jutsu. He was forced to stop the formation of hand seals, letting the chakra within him that had been moving according to the hand seals return its regular circulation. Instead, the kunai he had slipped on his finger rotated and returned to his grip.

Chakra surged into Sasuke's wakizashi, and the two blades clashed. But contact was made only for a moment before the Uchiha's chakra enhanced short sword cut cleanly through the opponent's mundane kunai.

"Wha-!?" An exclamation of surprise barely made its way out of the Ame genin's rebreather before the tip of Sasuke's blade sliced vertically down his torso. A long cut, running down his left collarbone to his hip sprayed blood that splattered on to Sasuke's clothes and face.

The final obstacle was taken down, the Uchiha concluded as another swift stroke carved into the young man's jugular, unleashing another torrent of blood that thankfully gushed out away from him.

Sasuke turned towards his remaining two opponents, who had already completed their jutsu and had sunk halfway into the earth.

However, the reaction to their teammate's death was strangely absent, as if they had not seen or even realized their teammate being cut down ruthlessly despite them not being far from the scene. In fact, their eyes were still glued towards the crowd of Haze Clones, still fighting an imaginary enemy.

'Sharingan Genjutsu is really effective. I did after all pick up some things while helping Shinji with it…' Sasuke thought to himself while he swung his wakizashi in the air, flicking off the blood on his blade.

In the minds of the remaining Ame genin, Sasuke was still tricked by the illusions, fighting tooth and nail against immaterial clones while they themselves were preparing to launch a sneak attack against the distracted genin. All the while their blind folded teammate who Sasuke could not catch with his ocular genjutsu because said blindfold covered both eyes was slain a few metres away.

This was not the first time he had taken a life. His first was in Wave, where Gato's hired mercenaries had charged at the bridge builders weapons in hand. Sasuke, on instinct, unleashed a torrent of fire at them, courtesy of a Grand Fireball, incinerating a large portion of the thugs. While a majority of the rest had been scared off with that display, the few remaining more stubborn mercenaries had to be dealt with by hand.

Shikamaru and Naruto had avoided attacking with deadly intent, but Sasuke aimed to kill. It was mostly motivated by his numerous 'life or death' battles he had with Shinji, where he always fought with the intent to kill. This habit had been carried over, letting him cut through vital spots with little hesitation.

He remembered Naruto being pissed that he had killed the mercenaries. Something about there always being a way to stop them without taking lives, and some nonsense about his nindo. How naïve, he recalled commenting in response. Those he had killed would not have hesitated to return the favour, so why should they grant them any mercy? Especially when doing so might result in unintended, yet unthinkable consequences.

An argument had started brewing between the two, but thankfully the more rational Kakashi and Shikamaru stepped in, even supporting Sasuke's side of the argument. Their sensei shared some of his experiences in the past, where he was forced with no option but to kill. Not just enemy combatants, but even once during an infiltration mission where a nosy civilian had discovered something they should not have seen and he was forced to silence them permanently.

Though Kakashi had also chided Sasuke for his cold indifference towards taking a life, cautioning against bloodlust, Naruto was crestfallen after hearing his entire team take the opposing side of a topic he considered non-negotiable. But the blonde recovered his sunny disposition faster than was normal, returning to his annoying behaviors like nothing had happened.

Sasuke quickly moved towards the one of the two Ame genin who were in the process of sinking completely in the ground. Deciding to end it before they disappeared from sight and made it more troublesome to deal with them, Sasuke brandished his wakizashi in one hand while preparing a shuriken in the other.

But before he could execute his targets, two orange blurs fell from the trees. One landed a devastating axe kick at the top of an Ame genin's cranium while the other struck down with a fist instead. The heavy blows aided by the force of gravity falling on the heads of unprepared targets instantly rendered them unconscious.

"Hah! That's two for me and one for you Sasuke-teme!"

One of the orange blondes declared triumphantly while the other poofed out of existence upon fulfilment of his raison d'être. Though Naruto acted like his usual loud-mouthed ways, his bright blue irises eyed the shuriken and wakizashi in Sasuke's hands. Clearly, he had only acted to prevent Sasuke from taking even more lives.

His intention was clear as day for the Uchiha, since Naruto couldn't act for nuts. But to prevent any discord and unpleasantness, Sasuke relented and sheathed his wakizashi while returning the shuriken to his weapon pouch. There was no point antagonizing an idiot who would only drag him down to an idiot's level.

Shikamaru strolled out from the edge of the treeline, "Oh good, you took care of them already."

The Nara glanced at the bloody corpse of the dead Ame genin, still twitching slightly, the remnant of death throes made by a person's body still struggling to live even if its remaining lifespan could be measured in the seconds.

Sasuke turned to him and smiled in amusement, "You are unexpectedly a good actor, aren't you? Man was I surprised when you started yelling. I think that was the loudest I have ever heard you speak before."

Shikamaru gave a lazy shrug, "You sensed their presence too, didn't you? Their killing intent was too obvious. I just couldn't pinpoint their location, so I came up with something on the spot to bait them. I was glad you were able to pick up my intentions and play along. Although someone clearly didn't…"

"Hey I realized it in the end, didn't I!?" Naruto protested, pouting and folding his arms.

The Uchiha rolled his eyes, "You almost blew our performance was what you did. Lucky for us those three are even dumber than you. Any other shinobi worth their salt would have realized something was up with you reacting like that."

The blonde blanched, though he couldn't find a proper retort.

"T-that's… Oh hey, why don't we look for their scroll? We could get lucky and pass the exam right away!" He quickly changed the subject, crouching down to look for the scroll in the belongings of the unconscious Ame genin.

His teammates shared a look and shook their heads at the shamelessness of Naruto but followed suit as well. Sasuke took on the responsibility to search through the body of the one he killed - something like that was just courtesy – hoping the scroll would not be ruined by the copious amounts of blood.

"Hmm? Here it is! Ah dang, it's another Heaven Scroll." Naruto exclaimed, fishing out the scroll from the Ame genin called Oboro.

The other two stopped rummaging through the bodies of the other Ame genin upon hearing their teammate had found what they were looking for.

"That's fine; we can keep it as a spare. Or in the worst case scenario, use it to barter our way out of a sticky situation. Since you found it, you can keep that one." Shikamaru advised.

Their original scroll was being held by the team's tactician. It was a satisfactory compromise when both Sasuke and Naruto had debated over who should hold on to it. Obviously they were both petitioning for themselves to be the keeper of the scroll.

Shikamaru had stepped in to mediate with cold logic and rationality, reasoning that anyone who knew their team would figure out at once that either of the two would be the one holding the scroll. Hence, the person who they would not suspect should be the one to keep it with them. Ergo, he should hold on to it.

It had to be said that both Naruto and Sasuke possessed stubborn personalities, even going so far as calling them self-centred. But all three genin of Team Seven also held a healthy respect for each other. And kunai to their throats, if they had to pick someone they listened to the most? Both would choose Shikamaru without hesitation.

The nucleus of Team Seven was not Sasuke, who possessed the highest combat ability amongst them. Neither was it Naruto, with his loud personality and undisguised desire to take the lead. Instead, it was Shikamaru.

Shikamaru was the glue holding Team Seven together; the only one that could balance his teammates' recklessness while at the same time letting their talents shine the most with his tactical mind and calm demeanour. With mere words, he could guide Sasuke's suppressed rage and vengeful spirit, directing them to a more productive purpose. He was also the catalyst that could both cool down or fan the flames of Naruto's boisterous spirit.

It was readily apparent for anyone who spent a prolonged period of time with the trio that it was actually Shikamaru who was the obvious leader of Team Seven, just like how Shinji was the obvious leader of Team Ten.

So when Shikamaru explained why he should be the one holding on their team's Heaven Scroll, his headstrong and at times impulsive teammates relented with only slight protest that concluded with willing capitulation.

As such, when Naruto was given permission to keep the scroll, Sasuke did not object, realizing that Shikamaru had given more thought to his decision than what he chose to reveal.

While Naruto pocketed the scroll with a small celebratory woohoo, a sudden gust of wind led Sasuke to snap his head in the direction of the wind, his Sharingan eyes immediately activating at the unexpected phenomena.

'There's chakra in the air…!'


His warning was barely received from his teammate before a massive tempest tore through the forest.

This chapter was written really quickly because there were a couple fight scenes. And what can I say? I love writing fight scenes. Though please don't expect this to be a regular schedule. I can only write when the muse strikes.

Chapter Breakdown

Alright I'm going to tell you the truth. The Orochimaru quest could have gone either way, depending on reviewer's reactions. I had drafted outlines for both outcomes: one where Shinji accepts the quest and goes after Orochimaru, and another where he rejects it and does his own thing.

But, I had already planned to implement a 'secret vote', wherein reviewers could choose how the story could progress depending on their reviews. So don't think I don't read your reviews, cause I do, and who knows how your review might change the story wink wink.

Let me explain what would have happened had Shinji decided to stop Orochimaru. I can share this because it's not going to happen anymore lol.

Had Shinji decided to stop Orochimaru, he would have chosen the indirect method of 'making a big enough commotion that would warrant investigation by the ANBU'. Additionally using his [Summon Doppelganger] skill to conjure the doppelganger to act in his stead while his main body continued on with Team Ten.

Orochimaru's chuunin subordinates would move to take on Shinji's doppelganger (which can now last 5 hours after the skill levelled up to level 5), and it would have been a pretty bruta scenario. The chuunin subordinates are judged to be around Sound Four level without their cursed seals.

After pulling out every trick at his disposal short of revealing his Sharingan as well as the new techniques he has developed, Shinji (doppelganger) barely wins, and finds Orochimaru being confronted by a squad of ANBU. Knowing that they would not be able to last very long against the Sannin, Shinji chooses to sneak in and bring Team Seven to safety.

Orochimaru, while tearing through the ANBU, spots Shinji running off with his prize. Though he suspects Shinji was the culprit for bringing the ANBU, he decides that he has outstayed his welcome. He leaves, before the rest of the village elites descend on the Forest of Death.

Sasuke does not get marked by the cursed seal and Shinji's quest succeeds.

So it would have been a happy ending in the end. Or would it? In exchange for the quest reward and saving Sasuke, he must now bear the brunt of Orochimaru's interest and attention.

Sounds pretty cool right? Was pretty bummed I couldn't write th fight scene, but it's all good. I have something else equally cool planned for the 'reject quest' storyline.

Next scene, Shinji trashes the Sand team. I tried to flesh out the perspective of a shinobi from Sand at the ground level. Their village is destitute, and even shinobi don't have stable lives. Perhaps even their civilian merchants might enjoy a higher socio-economic class than them. Their life sucks, they don't have money because there aren't enough missions to around, and without missions they can't achieve merits. No merits, no new jutsu, no new jutsu = stagnation. A vicious cycle that is sort of reflective of real world poverty. Yes, very satire, much wow indeed.

Then they come to Konoha and see the prosperity and 'decadence' of the leaf ninja, and no wonder they are pissed off. Unaware of the executive-level decisions being made way above their pay grade, and unwilling to take responsibility for some possible shortcomings of their own, they can only blame the 'unworthy and unqualified' Konoha ninjas.

Shikamaru's argument plan is in fact very blatantly stolen from another property. Sort of a 'if you know you know' type of thing. If you did get that reference then you are indeed a man / woman of culture who appreciates what I consider one of my top 3 Anime of all time.

That's about it. Like always, thanks for reading my story and if you liked it, smash that like button and hit subscribe for more content!